Wat Srakesa

Wat Srakesa

Wat Srakesa Rajawaramahavihara | Second Class Royal Temple | Presiding Buddha Image: Phra Prathan

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History of Wat Srakesa Rajawaramahavihara
His Holiness Somdej Phrabuddhacharaya (Kiew Upaseno), Editor

Wat Srakesa Rajavaramahavihara is an ancient monastery, originally called Wat Sakae. Its history has been recorded in the Royal Chronicles as far back as 1782 (B.E. 2325). Presently, it is a Royal Monastery of the Second Rank in the Rajavaramahavihara Class, situated in the precinct of Barn-batr, Pormprab Satruphai District, Bangkok (Phra Nakhorn Province).

Along the monastery's eastern fringe is a branch of the Maha Naga Canal from the north side of the arched bridge (which leads to Wat Cakrawadirajawas). This canal, however, has now been filled in. On the monastery's western margin lies the Water Jar Canal (Khlong Ong-ang). The Great Naga Canal (Khlong Maha Nag) is situated on its north side. On the south side is the monastery moat which led from the Water Jar Canal, encircling the monks' quarters, and finally joining the canal on the east side.

As mentioned earlier, Wat Srakesa is an ancient monastery. Historical records mention that it was built during the Ayudhya period and originally called Wat Sakae. After Bangkok was founded, King Rama I re-named the monastery Wat Srakasa. The Royal Chronicles record that King Rama I, when building Bangkok, ordered the construction of the Grand Palace and the Boworn Sathan Mongkon Palace. A canal was was also dug right round the city from Bang-lamphoo up to the river to the north of Wat Chakrawadirajawas. The Tube Canal (Khlong Lort) was also dug. Another large canal was dug to the north of Wat Sakae and called the Great Naga Canal. This last-named canal was for the convenience of public traffic during the festivities of music and poetry during the Water Festival (as was done during the Ayudhya period). After the digging of the Great Naga Canal, the name Wat Sakae was changed to that of Wat Srakesa. The monastery, including The Uposatha Hall (ubosot) and the monks' quarters, were renovated, and a moat was dug right round the monastery.

The word 'Wat Srakesa' literally means 'Royal Hair-washing'. In the Memoirs of Krom Luang Narindradewi, King Rama V explains why King Rama I changed the monastery's name as follows:

"...by Royal Decree, let Wat Sakae be called Wat Srakesa, and then be renovated; this is proper for the start of the royal journey into capital..." (No. 166).

King Rama V interprets these words as follow: "...renovated Wat Sakae and changed its name to Wat Srakesa, mentioned together with Wat Pho, as it is the start of the royal journey into the capital. It is said that His Majesty came through the forest entry and went through the traditional Royal Hair Washing Ceremony at Wat Sakae after returning from a long journey. As such the name was changed to Wat Srakesa (from "sra", royal Thai for "wash"; "ket" or "kesa", from the Pali for "hair")."

In his letter to Krom Phraya Narisranuwattiwong, dated 10th June 1942 (B.E. 2485), Somdet Krom Phraya Damrong Rajanubhab gives an interesting note on Wat Srakesa:

"The name 'Wat Srakesa' seems to be an important one in the north-eastern region which has it in almost every place. They, however, call it 'Wat Sri Sraket'. The Wat Srakesa in Bangkok was originally called 'Wat Sakae'. The records say that on returning from Khmer to ascend the throne, King Rama I performed the Royal Sacrifice ("phra krayasanan") at Wat Sakae. The king then proceeded in procession to the Royal Pavilion in front of Wat Bodharam (presently, Wat Phrachetupon (or Wat Pho) which was at the landing for the ferry crossing over to the Royal Palace in Thonburi. After renovating Wat Sakae into a Royal Monastery, King Rama I then called it Wat Srakesa. Phra Thammathanacharn (Chun) once informed me that the monks of Wat Srakesa say that according to tradition handed down, King Rama I ordered that the pool where he underwent the royal ceremony be filled in, and a monastery school was built in its place to the east of the quarters of the Royal Chapter monks at present."

The records of Wat Srakesa mention the following:

"In 1782 (B.E. 2325) when there was an uprising in Thonburi, King Rama I was then holding the rank of Somdet Chao Phraya Maha Kasat-suk and Somdet Phra Anurajadhiraj Krom Phra Rajawang-boworn Maha Surasinghanad was ranking as Chao Phraya Surasih-phisanavadhiraj. Both were away campaigning in Khmer, and them returned with the army. In 1782 (B.E. 2325), King Rama I came through the forest entrance and underwent the Royal Consecration Ceremony at Wat Sakae. After spending three days in the pavilion at Wat Sakae, His Majesty went overland to the front of Wat Bodharam (presently, Wat Phrachetupon), where His Majesty embarked the royal barge and crossed over to the Thonburi Palace. After restoring peace and order in the country, King Rama I was crowned and started the Chakri line which rules Siam till today. King Rama I removed the capital to the east bank and built the city of Ratanakosindr. When the Palace was built in the new capital, His Majesty also ordered the construction of the Emerald Buddha Temple which houses the Emerald Buddha, a sacred and blessed object for the capital. And, on seeing that the bell at Wat Sakae has a melodious sound, His Majesty thought that it befits a monastery important to the capital. The bell was transferred to the belfry of the Emerald Buddha Temple and its rings the vespers even till today."

Wat Srakesa is an important monastery in the history of the Thai nation and the chakri dynasty ever since its beginning. After becoming a Royal Monastery, King Rama I and the subsequent kings have contributed much towards the renovation of the various structures and monks' quarters.

Today this monastery may be divided into two sections. the northern half of the monastery contains the Golden Mount, the Shrine of Phra Attharot and The Uposatha Hall area: this is the 'Buddha's Residence' (buddhavasa). Separated by a road to the south lay the monks' quarters (sanghavasa). As such, it can be seen that Wat Srakesa is a well-planned monastery.

The Uposatha Hall
The Uposatha Hall ("phra ubosoth") is situated within the temple walls ("kamphaeng kaew") in the same vicinity with the Phra Attharot Shrine Hall. Around the former are the cloisters, and in between the temple wall and the cloisters are pagodas.

There is a portal in each of the four directions of the cloisters. Each portal is exquisitely designed and decorated, and has a terraced entrance. The roof is of glazed tiles and added with finials whose lower parts resemble the tail of the 'hong' (mythical swan-like bird) bearing ornamental designs and also covered with glazed tiles. The gable-ends of the portals are decorated with glass pieces. Within the cloister there are Buddha images all along the four sides. The images total 163, some cast and some sculpted and covered with plaster, all made to somewhat similar size. It has been conjectured that these images were installed during the general renovation of the monastery by King Rama III.

The Uposatha Hall is situated in the midst of the cloister. There is an ecclesiastical border-stone ("phattha-sima") in a howdah-like structure at each of the eight directions. The howdah-like roof structure are decorated with exquisite Chinese tiles. There are two border stones of carved rock-slabs and covered with coloured glass pieces in each of the howdah-like structures. These ecclesiastical borders are very famous. The Prince Patriarch Vajirananavarorasa in admiration says this: "The roof-structure of the border-stones of Wat Srakesa are exquisitely beautiful and should be regarded as standard form."

The Uposatha Hall is covered with a roof of glazed tiles which matches that of the cloister. The roof also has finials whose lower ends look like the hong’s tail. The gable-ends are decorated with coloured glass-pieces on both the sides. A figure of Narayana riding a garuda (a mythical bird) appears in the centre of the gables, reminding one of the royal emblem of the Royal Chakri Dynasty, the builders of Bangkok. The doors and windows look like palanquins with tiered patterns. The panels of the doors and windows bear gilded designs on black lacquer. The ceiling bears star designs. There are also inner porticos leading (from the cloisters) into the Hall courtyard.

This Uposatha Hall was built in the reign of King Rama I. His Majesty ordered the 10,000 Khmer canaldiggers to dig the (foundation of the) Hall after they had excavated the Maha Nag Canal. During the reign of King Rama III paintings were done on the (inner) walls. These paintings, however, were not very beautiful. As such, during the reign of King Rama VII, when renovations were made, the paintings were completely re-done. The lower panels show the last ten lives of the Buddha before his Enlightenment (called Tosa-chart). The upper panels were painted with pictures of the Guardian Kings of the Four Quarters (painted in repeated sequence) and devas (angels) The front wall is painted with the picture of the Buddha's victory over Mara the Evil One. The Buddha sits in the meditation posture in the centre. The Evil One, called Vasavatti creates a thousand arms each armed with weapons, and sits on the elephant Girimekhala. With his host demons, the Evil One, challenges the Buddha to his Jewelled Seat. This scene is depicted on one side. On the other side is shown the victory of the Buddha over the Evil One. Mother Earth, called Basundhari (or Vasudhari), appears below the Buddha's throne and wrings her long hair in witness of his Perfections. The host of the Evil One struggles in the waters and is swept away by the flood flowing from the hair of Mother Earth. The back wall depicts the three worlds, namely, the heavens, the earth, and the hells. In 1958, the cloisters were renovated by His Holiness the Supreme Patriarch Nanodaya Maha Thera when still holding the ecclesiastical rank of Somdet Phra Phutthaghosacharm, at the cost of about 2 million baht.

Phra Prathan
Presiding Buddha Image in the Uposatha Hall
The Presiding Buddha image in the Uposatha Hall is of gilded plaster modelled in the 'samadhi' (concentration or meditation) posture. It bears all the important features of a Buddha image and is an important one in Bangkok. The design of the image is perhaps early Ratanakosindr (that is, the Chakri dynasty). It is said that the present image was an enlargement of the original which was out of proportion with the size of the Hall.

THE ROYAL MOUNT (Borom Banpot)
The Royal Mount ("borom banpot"), commonly known as the Golden Mount ("phukhau thong") was constructed in the shape of a mountain. On its summit is a pagoda. Two spiral flights of stairs, one on the north side and the other on the south, lead up to the pagoda. This provides convenience for the public during festivity periods so that one flight of stairs ascends the mount, and the other descends. To the south there was a direct flight of stairs, but it was demolished during the renovation of 1950 (B.E. 2493). The circumference of the Mount's base is 330 metres, and it is 78.5 metres high. The Golden Mount is an important Buddhist shrine and also a valuable national treasure.

The building of the Golden Mount began during the reign of King Rama III who wished to construct a replica of the pagoda at Wat Phukhau Thong in the city of Ayudhya. The pagoda was situated on the edge of a plain. The people of Ayudhya would meet there in a music and poetry festival every year. King Rama III saw that the vicinity around Wat Srakesa with its canals was a convenient place. Somdet Phraya Borom Maha Phichai-yart (That Bunnag), then only holding the rank of Phraya Sri Phiphat Ratana Rajakosa, was put in charge of the construction.

The area near the Great Naga Canal, however, was soft and could not bear the weight of the structure, which began to sink. Construction work had to stop and the project was abandoned, leaving only a mass of brickwork. Later on, trees and plants began to cover the structure. When first constructed the structure was, by royal command, called the Golden Mount Pagoda (Phra Chedi Phukhau Thong).

Later on, during the reign of King Rama IV, in 1864, His Majesty commanded that Krommun Maheswara Siwa-wilas to be in charge of the construction of a Royal Mount in the middle of the Royal Plaza (Sanam Luang). The mount was to be 26 metres high with a pavilion ("mondop") 14 metres high topping it, altogether to measure 40 metres high. This structure was to house the Royal Remains. Smaller pavilions ("mondop") were also built, one at each of the four directions to house the remains of the members of the Royal Family and high-ranking nobles. Just below the pavilion of the central mount was the pavilion with the 'chor-far' spires where Buddhist monks recited the Sadab-pakorn (the Seven Books of the Abhidhamma) and took their alms-food. Near the Mount was the royal dais from where His Majesty would listen to sermons. The mount was then surrounded completely by pavilions for the monks.

The Mount was exquisitely built having pictures and various mechanisms. The heads of various Departments were levied with the construction of another set of pavilions at the four directions and competed with one another in the work. They also called for the assistance of the various heads of Departments who were unenlisted. The Royal Chapter of monks also requested the building of pavilions exhibiting various trick mechanisms surrounding the mount on another level. These pavilions also bear forms of various animals and tapering towers 24 metres high. The Royal Parasol and Standard and other showpieces were also put on display. His Majesty also ordered the effigy of the Royal Lion to be shown. The Buddha Image from the Dusitarom Throne Room was then brought in procession to be installed ceremonious at the Mount for the rites. After that the Image was brought in procession back to the Palace.

As a result of the construction of the Mount. King Rama IV began to think about the large pagoda left unfinished at Wat Srakesa by King Rama III. His Majesty though that such a large structure should not be left to waste away as a pile of bricks. By royal command, Phraya Sri Phiphat (Phae Bunnag), son of Somdet Chao Phraya Borom Maha Phichai-yart (That Bunnag) (engineer of King Rama III), was appointed to be in charge of construction during the reign of His Majesty King Rama IV. Phraya Raja Song-gram was appointed as engineer for transforming the structure into a mount and crown it with a pagoda. In 1865, His Majesty laid the foundation stone for the renovation and work proceeded throughout the reign. His Majesty ordered the pagoda's name to be changed to the 'Royal Mount' (Borom Banpot) after the namesake in the middle of the Royal Plaza.

The work on the Royal Mount was not completed until the reign of King Rama V, who further ordered the construction of the Sra Prathum Road to join up with Bamrung-meuang Road. The Mahad Thai Uthit Bridge and Boriphat Road were built to join up with Sra Prathum Road and traversed directly into the vicinity of the Royal Mount. Later on, when Cakraphat Road was built to join Worachak Road, His Majesty commanded that the canal opposite the monastery be filled and a road built together with the monastery wall. Then it was possible to reach the main road from the front of the monastery. Then His Majesty ordered a bridge to cross over the canal behind the monastery from Sra Prathum Road into the vicinity of the Royal Mount. it can therefore be seen that the Golden Mount took three reigns to be completed.

Pom Prap Sattru Phai, Bangkok, Thailand.

Bus Nos. 8, 15, 37, 47, 49 Air-conditioned bus Nos. 37, 49

Opening hours
The Temple is Open Daily from 08.00 A.M. - 07.00 P.M.

Credits: Wat Srakesa Rajawaramahavihara

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